Money’s not for burning

Meet George Lys, who finds film for World in Action

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 17 October 1964

FIND film of typhoid germs wriggling around under a microscope.

Find film of baby boxes — new machines for the automatic handling of infants.

Get a shot of banknotes being burnt.

Those are typical assignments handled by George Lys, film librarian of Granada’s World in Action, on Tuesdays.

The germs — needed for last year’s programme on Zermatt — were eventually located after Lys had rung round most of the London medical schools.

Westminster Medical School had just the film.

The baby boxes film never did arrive.

A man with a projector
“Burnign up” the film… George Lys checks another reel of film for World in Action

As for the burning banknotes, they must surely be one of the oddest episodes in British television.

The World in Action camera team tried to stuff real notes down drains. They tried to chuck them off Westminster Bridge. But in both cases the authorities stepped in and said “Not Allowed.”

Lys tried to find film of banknotes burning.

He used to work on the Rank “Look At Life” cinema series, and remembered a sequence of Bank of Scotland notes being burnt, but Ranks said they had been forbidden to use this film, except in that original context.

The Bank of England had no such film.

So the World In Action team, tiring of this vain attempt to chuck their money away, decided to make their point (that money was being wasted on defence) in another way.

But the finished World In Action film has never been publicly shown – except for a brief excerpt screened by the BBC — because the ITA stepped in and banned it as lacking balance.

George Lys, a lean, keen, energetic 40-year-old, has seen many millions of feet of film pass before his eyes during the past 25 years.

His memory, he says is unexceptional. But stored in his head is invaluable knowledge of how to get shots of all kinds.

Any historical material, any sequence that the hard-pressed World In Action camera team haven’t time to go out and shoot for the next programme, it’s George’s task to get — fast.

Most helpful of all sources to him is the United States Information Service. The Russian Sovexport Films are also extremely obliging.

Car firms and the big airlines provide ungrudging assistance. “We asked TWA for a shot of a jet in flight,” said George. “They didn’t have one, sent a camera up within a few hours and flew the film straight to us.”

One of the oddest, most valuable sources, for last January’s programme on the Lakonia sinking disaster was a passenger.

A confused shot of a boat
A hazy but historic shot… taken by one of the passengers of the Lakonia when it sank

“We sent a questionnaire to the victims asking if they’d had lifeboat drill, and so on.” George explaihed.

“One man had taken some 8mm. film of the abandonment of the ship. We had it enlarged to our 16mm. size and it turned out to be very good.”

George’s job also involved the cataloguing, for possible future use, of all film taken for World In Action.

“There may be 10,000 feet shot for a programme, of which about 950 get used. The rest is filed.

“When we use film crews in the States we sometimes get crazy guys filming everything in sight.

“For the feature on Jean Shrimpton modelling in America, we ended up with 22,000 feet, and 93 of them got on to the screen!”

So that he knows exactly what he’s got and where it is, George prefers to work without an assistant, though I should mention that, as part of World In Action’s policy of using the best available equipment, he does employ a robot.

It is “the world’s first fully automatic splicing machine” for glueing film together!

The most frustrating part of George’s job is having to work in an office from which his reporting and researching colleagues are constantly flying off to exotic places in search of news.

George, who’s just returned from a family holiday in Poole, said: “I haven’t been abroad for 15 years and you can imagine that this job makes me long to fly out to see the world in action for myself.”

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